The Supershelf: Coming to the CAC Near You

17 January 2019

Healthy food: we all want it. So why is it so hard to get?

This is a question that Hunger Solutions Minnesota and the SuperShelf initiative set out to resolve. According to surveys conducted by these organizations, there are several myths surrounding food shelves and those who use it. For instance, it is widely assumed that food shelf users only look for junk or fast food on the shelves. In reality, healthy food is most often requested and is unfortunately not often available at food shelves.

This myth is part of a larger misconception that healthy food is easy to get. This is not the case, especially for food shelf users, who cannot afford the healthy options they need. Because of this, it has become a high priority for Minnesota food shelves to find a way to provide better food for their customers.

And speaking of customers, for people who go to food shelves, it is difficult for them to feel as though they have choices in the products they can bring home. Despite another myth that food shelf users are different from the people you know– they are actually no different at all– their shopping experiences at the food shelf are less like that of a typical grocery store than people might think. Many food shelves are dark and dingy, with literal shelves of unhealthy processed foods.

The food shelf at the Northfield Community Action Center (CAC) is one food shelf undergoing serious changes to combat the aforementioned problems. Christof Zweifel ‘21, a program director for the Food Recovery Network (FRN) at Carleton, visits the CAC on Monday mornings when he delivers donations from Cub Foods and Target. However, he notes that despite his frequenting the CAC, he “didn’t have a full idea of the shortcomings of the old location: that the back stock and the retail area are all in one room and the overall lack of storage.”

There was clearly a need for some changes, starting with a walk-in cooler to keep foods fresh. As the CAC looked for funds for this addition, Alex Miller, Carleton’s Sustainability Program Director, found a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that would allow the CAC to pay for the cooler they needed. With the efforts of Erica Zweifel (CCCE Program Manager) and others who helped write the grant, the super changes began; with the food shelf’s previous set-up, a new walk-in cooler would require renovations. Additionally, the CAC received a grant from the University of Minnesota to create a Supershelf, requiring major remodeling. These renovations were originally planned to happen over the summer of 2018, but one thing led to another and the plan was pushed back to the ‘18/’19 winter break.

Luckily, Carleton students still on campus over break were more than happy to help, including members of the Women’s Cross Country & Track and Field (WXCTF) team. Some helped paint new shelves while others went out into the Northfield community to collect food. The team did not have much knowledge of the food shelf before, but Sam Schnirring ‘19 was excited to learn more about the CAC’s goal to make their Supershelf more welcoming and to encourage healthy eating habits by providing healthier foods. Schnirring adds, “Talking with [Anika Rychner, the CAC program director], was super educational and changed my ideas about what a food shelf could provide for the community– the idea of moving beyond canned/processed foods to make fresh fruits and vegetables accessible for all families especially was really cool.”

Alongside the WXCTF team were other members of the Northfield community such as the Carleton football team, the Northfield Construction Company, the Northfield Rotary Club, the Northfield Peewee Hockey A Team, and Carleton FRN program directors. With these helping hands the CAC was able to move food to their temporary location, demolish walls, and completely renovate the food shelf space with new paint, floors, and shelves.

This show of community support and helping hands is a testament to Northfield’s desire to make healthy foods accessible to anyone who needs it by means of a new Supershelf, a more dignified place for visitors in search of a more nutritious diet. 


Laura Albares, WXCTF Assistant Coach:

It’s often hard for a lot of our athletes who are in-season all three terms to find time and mental energy to give back, but in the end if we can at-least make it a priority to help is a small way we find that the rewards are more than worth it. Really this project didn’t take a lot of time out of our schedules and it was fun to learn more about the food shelf and CAC.  It seems like we had a lot of people curious about what we did including some St. Olaf students so I hope that at the very least we spread some awareness for the CAC and inspired others at Carleton and in Northfield to consider whether they might want to look into ways they can act in our community.

Sam Schnirring, ‘19:

Sometimes Carleton can feel like the center of the universe, so getting off-campus and meeting super dedicated people in the Northfield community who are working to make the town better was really inspiring. I also think it’s important to get into the community and try to do something positive in Northfield. I’ve benefited a lot from living here for four years, so volunteering in the community felt like I could give back a little.